Education Groups Battle Teachers Unions in State Races
Monday, 10 March 2014 16:59
By Rachel Baye, The Center for Public Integrity | Report
Three weeks before Tennessee’s August 2012 primary election, state Rep. John DeBerry Jr.’s Memphis-area district was flooded with $52,000 worth of get-out-the-vote efforts supporting the then-nine-term incumbent. Six days later, another $52,000 in materials appeared.
By Election Day, the Tennessee affiliate of StudentsFirst, the education-focused organization behind the influx of support, had spent more than $109,000 backing DeBerry, a rare Democrat who supports voucher programs and charter schools. The state branch of the American Federation for Children, another education group, spent another $33,000.
DeBerry faced another Democrat, state Rep. Jeanne Richardson, whose district was eliminated through redistricting.
“I couldn’t counter it,” Richardson said of the funds StudentsFirst introduced late in the race. “I had to raise money by calling people. There wasn’t enough time left.”
StudentsFirst — created by former Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee — is leading a new wave of “education reform” organizations, funded largely by wealthy donors, that are challenging teachers’ unions and supporting mostly conservative candidates up and down the ticket in dozens of states.
These groups promote charter schools, voucher programs and weakening of employment safeguards like teacher tenure, all ideas bitterly opposed by unions.
StudentsFirst flooded at least $3 million in outside spending into state elections in 2012, putting the group roughly on par with the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, across 38 states examined by the Center for Public Integrity and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The Sacramento, Calif.-based group is far from the only education reform organization that has gained prominence in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court decision that made it easier for corporations to fund political campaigns.
Among the biggest spenders: the American Federation for Children, 50CAN, Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform . The organizations flooded states across the country with independent advertising and canvassing efforts in the run-up to the 2012 primary and general election.
They have been funded by a slew of billionaire donors, like philanthropist Eli Broad, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hedge fund manager Dan Loeb and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. However, the full list of funders opening their checkbooks for the education reformers remains a mystery since StudentsFirst and many of the other groups are so-called social welfare nonprofit organizations, which fall under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. tax code.
Such groups are not required to reveal their donors.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Rachel Baye joined the Center in August 2013. Prior to joining, she spent two years at The Washington Examiner covering Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs and education. She arrived at the Examiner in 2011 immediately after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania where she led the school’s award-winning student newspaper. She has also held internships at Philadelphia’s public radio station, WHYY, and with CNN’s investigative team. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in journalism and public affairs from American University.
Education as “Politically Contested Spaces”
By Paul Thomas, The Daily Censored | Op-Ed
Education for Profit in Detroit: The Buying and Selling of "Failing" Children
By Tolu Olorunda, Truthout | News Analysis
Education and National Security
By Lawrence Davidson, To the Point Analysis | Op-Ed